December 31, 2010

Do the young Dutch miss war?

I'm sitting here on my couch, it's the 31st of December and both my cat and I feel quite terrorized by the extremely loud booms of the fireworks set off every few seconds from beneath my apartment. As it's now mid-morning (and very foggy), there is little of the 'light' effect to the fireworks, but the sound effect is jarring, frightening and just plain loud.
I understand the fascination of fireworks, seen at night, in a beautiful display. I too have loved the yearly shows I saw first as a child in the US on the fourth of July and later in Israel on Independence Day. But I also grew up understanding that they are dangerous, and should be set off by professionals - in an open space - at night, etc.
On the Dutch news yesterday they mentioned that parking in Amsterdam over the past few days will be free - not out of good will for the New Year - but due to the fact that they have sealed off all the parking meters (and mailboxes too for that matter), as kids tend to stick fireworks inside them, and blow them up.
Patriot Missiles protecting Tel Aviv
Well, don't the Dutch like to let their kids have fun!

These fireworks are too much for me. And the reason is one that sadly, many immigrants to these flatlands will identify with. I have lived through war.

During the Gulf War in 1991, I was living in Tel Aviv, working in an office building in Ramat Gan, and carrying a gas mask with me wherever I went.
Every night we would listen for the warning siren which did inevitably go off, put on our gas masks, scurry into our makeshift 'safe rooms' - a room where the windows were covered with plastic and tape, put a wet towel under the door and with our backs to the glass windows and with the TV on, we'd wait for the explosions. 39 SCUD missiles hit Israel, mostly in the Tel Aviv/Ramat Gan area.  It was a terrifying period when I tried to lead a normal life, go to parties, date guys, do my work, but every night I feared the chemical rockets would land on my building and that I'd die an agonizing death. We typically heard two types of missile sounds - after the warning siren - the whistle of the Patriot missiles - trying to engage the SCUD midair and destroy it - and the explosion of the SCUD itself - landing in the vicinity, shaking the building like a minor earthquake. And finally, the siren of 'all clear' until the next time.

SCUD Missile Damage in Ramat Gan
All this happened in a country where I had learned to avoid the marketplaces, the busy shopping malls and public transportation and any suspicious object which might turn out to be a bomb.

Years later, when I moved to the Netherlands, I was surprised to learn that I could again mix with the crowds on Leidseplein and only have to worry about the pickpockets. I learned slowly that buses here were safe - and on time! People were not hysterical and much less stressed. Best of all, young people, including my children, never had to worry about becoming soldiers and their mothers never had to worry that their children would be hurt by random acts of war.

And I hope you understand now why I am traumatized by the fireworks of the 31st of December, and why I hope that firework displays will eventually be taken over by the city municipalities. I'm not the only immigrant from a country where there has been violence. I guess I'm not the only one traumatized by these loud explosive sounds.
My only question remains - Why do the Dutch love this so much?


  1. The answer to your question lies deep within the human psyche...It does and it doesn't. Kids like fireworks because of the feeling of controlled danger, they know nothing can really go wrong but it still gives the feeling of danger which the brain needs to stay alert, and it is fun! Men like fireworks because men never actually grow up, I mean I'm 19 years old and I still play with a laserpen! For women it's more a social thing than that they actually like fireworks.
    Hope to have answered your question^.^

  2. Thanks for the enlightenment - that idea of controlled danger - that is indeed something very attractive for people. Probably the same reason students choose to come to exams without studying - the danger of failing versus the safety net of resits... :)

  3. Hmmm, I wouldn't call resits a safety net. I come from a high school where you could actually resit 90% of all the tests and I can say it's not beneficial to not study for an exam. I've failed some courses because of this mentality, but I suppose people will find out sooner or later that having resits is more a curse than a blessing.

  4. when reading your story i found it very impressive to hear what you have been trough.
    I myself do not really like firework, I normally watch from inside the house because I am to scared. Not because of some traumatizing thing I have been trough but just because im scared that something bad will happen or that I will get hurt. However I do like how it looks the pretty sparkles in the air.I think that plays a part in Dutch people loving it and that what Joël said about controlled danger.